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- The Trail of the Sword, Volume 2. - 2/9 -
He paused. The priest had placed meat and wine on the table, and now he came and put his hand on Iberville's shoulder. "Pierre," he said, "I welcome you as one brother might another, the elder foolishly fond." Then he added: "I was glad you remembered our music."
"My dear De Casson, as if I could forget! I have yet the Maggini you gave me. It was of the things for remembering. If we can't be loyal to our first loves, why to anything?"
"Even so, Pierre; but few at your age arrive at that. Most people learn it when they have bartered away every dream. It is enough to have a few honest emotions--very few--and stand by them till all be done."
"Even hating?" Iberville's eyes were eager.
"There is such a thing as a noble hate."
"How every inch of you is man!" answered the other, clasping the priest's arms. Then he added: "Abbe, you know what I long to hear. You have been to New York twice; you were there within these three months--"
"And was asked to leave within these three months--banished, as it were."
"I know. You said in your letter that you had news. You were kind to go--"
"Perrot went too."
"My faithful Perrot! I was about to ask of him. I had a birch-bark letter from him, and he said he would come--Ah, here he is!"
He listened. There was a man's voice singing near by. They could even hear the words:
"'O the young seigneur! O the young seigneur! A hundred bucks in a day he slew; And the lady gave him a ribbon to wear, And a shred of gold from her golden hair O the way of a maid was the way he knew; O the young seigneur! O the young seigneur!'"
"Shall we speak freely before him?" said the priest. "As freely as you will. Perrot is true. He was with me, too, at the beginning."
At that moment there came a knock, and in an instant the coureur du bois had caught the hands of the young man, and was laughing up in his face.
"By the good Sainte Anne, but you make Nick Perrot a dwarf, dear monsieur!"
"Well, well, little man, I'll wager neither the great abbe here nor myself could bring you lower than you stand, for all that. Comrade, 'tis kind of you to come so prompt."
"What is there so good as the face of an old friend!" said Perrot, with a little laugh. "You will drink with a new, and eat with a coming friend, and quarrel with either; but 'tis only the old friend that knows the old trail, and there's nothing to a man like the way he has come in the world."
"The trail of the good comrade," said the priest softly.
"Ah!" responded Perrot, "I remember, abbe, when we were at the Portneuf you made some verses of that--eh! eh! but they were good!"
"No fitter time," said Iberville; "come, abbe, the verses!"
"No, no; another day," answered the priest.
It was an interesting scene. Perrot, short, broad, swarthy, dressed in rude buckskin gaudily ornamented, bandoleer and belt garnished with silver,--a recent gift of some grateful merchant, standing between the powerful black-robed priest and this gallant sailor-soldier, richly dressed in fine skins and furs, with long waving hair, more like a Viking than a man of fashion, and carrying a courtly and yet sportive look, as though he could laugh at the miseries of the sinful world. Three strange comrades were these, who knew each other so far as one man can know another, yet each knowing from a different stand-point. Perrot knew certain traits of Iberville of which De Casson was ignorant, and the abbe knew many depths which Perrot never even vaguely plumbed. And yet all could meet and be free in speech, as though each read the other thoroughly.
"Let us begin," said Iberville. "I want news of New York."
"Let us eat as we talk," urged the abbe.
They all sat and were soon eating and drinking with great relish.
Presently the abbe began:
"Of my first journey you know by the letter I sent you: how I found that Mademoiselle Leveret was gone to England with her father. That was a year after you left, now about three years gone. Monsieur Gering entered the navy of the English king, and went to England also."
Iberville nodded. "Yes, yes, in the English navy I know very well of that."
The abbe looked up surprised. "From my letter?"
"I saw him once in the Spaniards' country," said Iberville, "when we swore to love each other less and less."
"What was the trouble?" asked the priest.
"Pirates' booty, which he, with a large force, seized as a few of my men were carrying it to the coast. With his own hand he cut down my servant, who had been with me since from the first. Afterwards in a parley I saw him, and we exchanged--compliments. The sordid gentleman thought I was fretting about the booty. Good God, what are some thousand pistoles to the blood of one honest friend!"
"And in your mind another leaven worked," ventured the priest.
"Another leaven, as you say," responded Iberville. "So, for your story, abbe."
"Of the first journey there is nothing more to tell, save that the English governor said you were as brave a gentleman as ever played ambassador--which was, you remember, much in Count Frontenac's vein."
Iberville nodded and smiled. "Frontenac railed at my impertinence also."
"But gave you a sword when you told him the news of Radisson," interjected Perrot. "And by and by I've things to say of him."
The abbe continued: "For my second visit, but a few months ago. We priests have gone much among the Iroquois, even in the English country, and, as I promised you, I went to New York. There I was summoned to the governor. He commanded me to go back to Quebec. I was about to ask him of Mademoiselle when there came a tap at the door. The governor looked at me a little sharply. 'You are,' said he, 'a friend of Monsieur Iberville. You shall know one who keeps him in remembrance.' Then he let the lady enter. She had heard that I was there, having seen Perrot first."
Here Perrot, with a chuckle, broke in: "I chanced that way, and I had a wish to see what was for seeing; for here was our good abbe alone among the wolves, and there were Radisson and the immortal Bucklaw, of whom there was news."
De Casson still continued: "When I was presented she took my hand and said: 'Monsieur l'Abbe, I am glad to meet a friend--an old friend--of Monsieur Iberville. I hear that he has been in France and elsewhere.'"
Here the abbe paused, smiling as if in retrospect, and kept looking into the fire and turning about in his hand his cassock-cord.
Iberville had sat very still, his face ruled to quietness; only his eyes showing the great interest he felt. He waited, and presently said: "Yes, and then?"
The abbe withdrew his eyes from the fire and turned them upon Iberville.
"And then," he said, "the governor left the room. When he had gone she came to me, and, laying her hand upon my arm, said: 'Monsieur, I know you are to be trusted. You are the friend of a brave man.'"
The abbe paused, and smiled over at Iberville. "You see," he said, "her trust was in your friend, not in my office. Well, presently she added: 'I know that Monsieur Iberville and Mr. Gering, for a foolish quarrel of years ago, still are cherished foes. I wish your help to make them both happier; for no man can be happy and hate.' And I gave my word to do so." Here Perrot chuckled to himself and interjected softly: "Mon Dieu! she could make a man say anything at all. I would have sworn to her that while I lived I never should fight. Eh, that's so!"
"Allons!" said Iberville impatiently, yet grasping the arm of the woodsman kindly.
The abbe once more went on: "When she had ended questioning I said to her: 'And what message shall I give from you?' 'Tell him,' she answered, 'by the right of lifelong debt I ask for peace.' 'Is that all?' said I. 'Tell him,' she added, 'I hope we may meet again.' 'For whose sake,' said I, 'do you ask for peace?' 'I am a woman,' she answered, 'I am selfish--for my own sake.'"
Again the priest paused, and again Iberville urged him.
"I asked if she had no token. There was a flame in her eye, and she begged me to excuse her. When she came back she handed me a little packet. 'Give it to Monsieur Iberville,' she said, 'for it is his. He lent it to me years ago. No doubt he has forgotten.'"
At that the priest drew from his cassock a tiny packet, and Iberville, taking, opened it. It held a silver buckle tied by a velvet ribbon. A flush crept slowly up Iberville's face from his chin to his hair, then he sighed, and presently, out of all reason, laughed.
"Indeed, yes; it is mine," he said. "I very well remember when I found it."
Here Perrot spoke. "I very well remember, monsieur, when she took it from your doublet; but it was on a slipper then."
Iberville did not answer, but held the buckle, rubbing it on his sleeve as though to brighten it. "So much for the lady," he said at last; "what more?"
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